Steam cars manufactured by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company of Newton, Massachusetts were among the first successful commercially produced automobiles. The ‘Stanley Steamer’ became part of popular American culture and an icon of the old car hobby. Steam was an easy sell in a century when steam was called “The Power That Moves the World”. The disadvantages of steam power were also well known: it could take as long as twenty minutes to bring the boiler up to operating temperature, invention of the electric starter brought ease of operation to gasoline-powered automobiles and fear of boiler explosions was widespread.
Twin brothers F.E. and F.O. Stanley sold their business in 1917. The new Stanley Model 735 entered production in 1918, designed to overcome the perceived early disadvantages. The Model 735 utilized a condensing boiler to provide greater range before having to stop to refill the boiler. Coils located in a traditional style radiator at the front of the car became part of a closed system where steam was returned to the boiler instead of being released into the atmosphere. The car featured a conventional steel chassis and a total of six body styles, and became the most successful automobile in Stanley history, with just over 1,700 sold.
This 1922 Stanley Model 735B is a very rare automobile, with a legend to match. Frenchman Eric Massiet determined to circle the globe driving a steam car, and it was this automobile that was selected and underwent a thorough mechanical restoration in 1992. Intending to pay homage to Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days”, Massiet baptized the Stanley “Passepartout” after the valet who accompanied his master Phileas Fogg in Verne’s famous adventure. Massiat’s adventure was completed successfully, although not without difficulties. The car was purchased in 2009 by a French engineer and steam enthusiast who undertook a mechanical and cosmetic restoration as shown here, improving upon the original boiler system to make the car more drivable and reliable.
The current condition reflects the age and experience of the car. The body is finished in maroon paint with black fenders, radiator, headlights and trim. As to be expected, abundant nicks and chips are evident. The centers of the wooden artillery style wheels are painted red with yellow coach stripes, and a single spare is mounted at the rear of the car. The interior is upholstered with very old leather. The simple array of gauges are mounted on a wood dashboard and the thick wood rim steering wheel folds at the center for ease of entry or exit to the tall, narrow interior. Other mechanical controls are mounted on the steering column or to the left of the driver’s position. The folding cloth top also shows its age but is still fully functional. Modifications made by the French engineer who undertook the 2009 restoration of the car include conversion to a modern-style boiler operated with gasoline.
This veteran touring car is just a neat old thing. And, like many old things, it has its own special appeal to someone who shares enthusiasm for this car’s place in steam car history, for its history of French ownership and for its extraordinary ‘round-the-world journey. This is not a show car by any stretch, unless the show is a gathering of steam car enthusiasts. On the other hand, this car could be a star of steam car gatherings, tours or parades or simply fun for carrying seven people around in an old open car.